Group seeks to educate citizens on disabilities in workplace

BY CASSIDY RILEY | JULY 23, 2013 5:00 AM

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Local experts say equality in the workplace for those with and without disabilities is a long way off, but training sessions may be a step in the right direction.

The Iowa City Human Rights Commission will host a one-day training session on Aug. 6 to discuss workplace discrimination against those with disabilities.

Stefanie Bowers, a human-rights coordinator for the commission, said it tries to host training sessions every year to address different human-rights issues.

“I think one of the ways to bring attention to discrimination that a person might encounter is to hold programs like we are doing to bring attention to the issue,” she said.

This seminar has a maximum attendance of 30, and Bowers said more than 15 people had already signed up.

“The purpose is to educate the community,” she said. “[This training session] will basically provide the public with their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act Title One.”

Friday marks the 23rd anniversary of the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Leonard Sandler, a University of Iowa clinical professor of law, has had many years of experience working on projects concerning disabilities and human-rights issues. He said that since the law was amended in 2008, it is essential for employers to understand not only their responsibilities under the law but also how to simply go about talking with employees about necessary accommodations for a disability.

“The training session will] probably tell them what’s legal and what’s permissible,” he said. “A lot of people think you can’t ask any person with a disability questions. Unless they bring it up, you shouldn’t be asking if someone has a disability, but you can ask them if they can do the job and what kinds of accommodations they might need.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May 2012, more than 28 million men and woman in the United States over the age of 16 had disabilities. Among those with disabilities, 18.2 percent were employed. The employment rate for those without disabilities was approximately 64 percent.

Sandler said one of the biggest misunderstandings about employees with disabilities is that accommodating them could be very expensive. According to a study done by the Job Accommodation Network, 57 percent of accommodations employees needed had no cost, and 37 percent claimed a onetime-only cost.

“The training sessions are to destroy the myths,” Sandler said.

Access 2 Independence is a local nonprofit that works to advocate and empower those with disabilities. Rosie Math is a community outreach coordinator for Access 2 Independence who struggles with dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, and depression.

“It’s really important for me to work under a supervisor who is really understanding and patient —  somebody who has an awareness about disabilities and will also work with me in my strengths,” she said. “I’ve lucked out because most of my bosses have been extremely supportive and have been really amazing role models in the past.”

Math said that while she has had many positive experiences, she at one time worked at a restaurant in Washington state in which the owner did not tolerate her disability well.

“I did things just as well as everyone else did, but I think she just wasn’t patient at all,” she said. “She did things to really exacerbate my anxiety [such as] she would time how long it would take me to sweep. She ended up just making me do dishes, and I was just kind of sick of it.”

Math said she believes the training session will help shift cultural opinions locally about those with disabilities.

“People with disabilities have so many strengths and so many ways that they excel,” she said. “They aren’t given the opportunity to really show off their skills because they’re placed in positions where they do menial work. There needs to be more opportunities and more diversity in jobs that are willing to train people with all kinds of disabilities.”

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